By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
The All-Star starters are set, so the real drama, as is often the case, is who will fill out the reserves (they'll be announced Feb. 9 on TNT). Our picks for the West are below. For Steve Aschburner's look at the East, click here.
Talk about seismic changes. You can almost feel the tectonic plates shifting beneath our feet.
For the first time since dinosaurs walked the earth -- or at least the Clinton Administration -- the Western Conference All-Star team should take the floor without Tim Duncan or Dirk Nowitzki in the lineup.
Sure, you can make the argument that the pair of veteran forwards might get a lifetime pass based on their body of work and their status as future Hall of Famers. But we prefer not to live in the cobwebs of the past. Duncan's numbers are down to the lowest of his career because coach Gregg Popovich is trying to save him for the playoffs. He's a part-timer, and certainly not performing at an All-Star level every night. In the case of Nowitzki, as much as we admire him, we can't campaign for a guy who has to take a week off to get in shape.
If you try to call us out on the inclusion of the venerable Steve Nash, we'll just refer you to his numbers, still a nightly double-double. Oh, and the fact that the Knicks would give their eye teeth to have him.
So feel the rumble, listen to the noise. Here comes the future with our seven picks for the Western Conference reserves, including four first-timers:
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City (17-4)
21.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 5.8 apg
Westbrook takes all the flak for anything that goes wrong in OKC, then just keeps his head down and continues to produce. He scores (OK, sometimes he shoots too much), he rebounds, he moves down the floor faster than a lightning bolt and he dishes out nearly a half-dozen assists per game. While it is clearly Kevin Durant's show, Westbrook's brazen cockiness puts the rumble into the Thunder's game.
Steve Nash, Phoenix (8-13)
14.3 ppg, 9.9 apg, 52.8 FG%
At a time when he should be wearing down and out, the soon-to-be 38-year-old is still averaging a hair under a double-double and dropping more dimes than a piggy bank with a hole in the bottom. He's also the only guard to rank in the top 15 in field-goal percentage. One of these days he will be gone, so it's important to appreciate and recognize him for all the things he still can do at a high level.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland (13-9)
22.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.1 spg
The challenge was for Aldridge to step up and fill the leadership void in the absence of Brandon Roy. He has answered the call in a big way, keeping the Blazers in the playoff hunt. He's doing it in more ways than simply putting the ball into the hoop, too. His PER of 23.5 ranks seventh in the league, ranking ahead of Blake Griffin. Toss in the fact that he was robbed last year and this is a no-brainer.
Kevin Love, Minnesota (10-12)
25.5 ppg, 13.5 rpg, 1.6 apg
Love is a modern-day double-double machine with 19 in the Wolves' first 21 games. He ranks fourth in scoring, second in rebounding and second in PER. Nobody in the Western Conference plays a more complete game inside and outside. He's not nearly as flashy as all those YouTube dunks by Griffin, but he takes a banging and gets the job done every night.
Marc Gasol, Memphis (10-10)
14.7 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 2.2 bpg
Gasol is one of only 11 players in the league averaging a double-double. He's getting it done while having to pick up the slack for the injured Zach Randolph. His PER of 22.9 ranks one place ahead of Derrick Rose. The fact that the Grizzlies aren't in a major media market and have drifted to the lower ranks of West playoff teams shouldn't be held against him. If there's going to be a Gasol in the All-Star Game, the blue collar little brother should be the one.
Paul Millsap, Utah (12-8)
17.1 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.6 spg
During a recent three-game stretch, it could be argued that Millsap outplayed Griffin, Love and Nowitzki, two locks for the West roster and last season's NBA Finals hero. Millsap has slimmed down from last season, but not given up. He's taken his jump shot range to 20 feet while learning to complement Al Jefferson. His PER ranks 10th in the league.
Ty Lawson, Denver (14-7)
15.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 6.5 apg
This is the spot usually occupied by Manu Ginobili, but he's still out with a broken bone in his hand. In barely two seasons, Lawson has transformed himself from a timid rookie point guard whom George Karl was afraid to put out onto the floor into a key cog in the machinery of a Nuggets team that has rolled to the third-best record in the West. He pushes the pace, runs the offense and makes the rest of the Denver lineup more efficient. At the defensive end, he disrupts, makes steals and gets the Nuggets running and scoring in the transition game.
Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers -- A numbers game. There's no way you can justify three players from a team that's clinging to the No. 8 seed.
Kyle Lowry, Houston -- He leads the offense, he drives to the basket and he shoots the 3. But he's still not Steve Nash.
Al Jefferson, Utah -- The big man delivers every night (17.9 ppg, 9 rpg), but loses out to Jazz teammate Millsap.
Records through Wednesday night. Stats through Tuesday.
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